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R.H. Boll as a Writer and Editor

by Alex Wilson

INSTALLMENT #2

In our beginning installment last month, we saw that R. H. Boll faced much oppo-sition during his long ministry. Various accusations were made against him by some influential preachers and editors among Churches of Christ.

But we also presented evidence that he was strongly committed to:
1) belief in the Bible as the word of God;
2) freedom for all Christians to study it carefully and prayerfully for them-selves, without having to agree fully with any church or human teacher (including him);
3) being loving and positive towards those who did not agree with all his views.

Now we continue.

D. Toward Those who Differed from Him, Boll was Gracious, Not Vengeful or Mean-spirited

Related to his positive approach (mentioned last month), was Boll’s graciousness of attitude toward others. This was seen both in his writing and his editing. He would be the first to say that it is God’s grace to us that stimulates our graciousness to others.

Though for decades he faced opposition that was often fierce, he infrequently referred to these matters in his magazine, and hardly at all in his sermons. I would guess that a sizeable number of people who heard him preach regularly had not the slightest idea that he was the object of sharp attacks. The inner core of the congregation knew about this–in a general way from reading Word and Work, or in a more detailed way from the various papers of “the other side,” as we termed the editors who opposed Brother Boll and “our” churches. And those in his regular classes (on Mon.-Wed. afternoons, for instance) might learn of such matters from questions sometimes raised by students regarding disputed doctrines or accusations which had been heard. But in the numerous classes I attended (maybe ten years of Fri. night classes, plus two years of Mon.-Wed. afternoons), I never remember his slurring his detractors nor even mentioning them by name. He considered them brethren, and would not drag them down. In warning against fundamental errors like modernism he would caution us against writers who were dangerous–like Harry Emerson Fosdick. But in teaching about differences among people who were truly committed to God’s Word, he would discuss issues (like legalism, sectarianism, or watering down God’s promises) rather than personalities.

In January 1934, Word and Work publisher E. L. Jorgenson, probably Boll’s closest friend, wrote these remarks as part of an article introducing the new year: “As to any personal reflections and aspersions directed our way, such scribes are to us, in this character, as if they did not exist. The editor of W. & W. rarely reads their fulminations. His message could well be: ‘I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.’ (Neh. 6:3.)”

Another example of this magnanimous approach is found in a statement Jorgenson made twelve years later. He mentions that a series of articles in Word and Work had been strongly opposed by some writers. He and Boll had “disregarded” those criticisms “for the reason that they have generally come from harsh and ‘extreme’ sources” — people who were drawing lines and causing divisions. “But now there has appeared a long article from a man that we respect and esteem; a brother in the Lord that we have long thought of as wishing to be fair — namely, Brother G. C. Brewer.” Then comes this significant sentence: “We call no names unless we can commend.” Jorgenson then presented Brewer’s criticisms and replied to them.

Yes, Boll (and his associates) called names when commending others, but not when replying to belligerent accusers. The latter he would ignore if he knew his replies would only be twisted and abused. Or, if his antagonists seemed to be honest seekers for truth, he would deal with issues and defend his position. But he chose not to vilify anyone.

Due to this policy, some of his aggressive opponents felt he was a wimp. His most caustic attacker from the early 1930s onward was Foy E. Wallace, Jr. (I would follow Boll’s example and omit Brother Wallace’s name, except that you could find it anyway in the endnotes! And almost everyone knows of his opposition to Boll.) Richard Hughes writes,

In the very first issue of the Bible Banner, [Wallace] complained that ‘a general softness is pervading the church….Plain preaching…[is] now yielding to the persuasions of the plush-mouthed and velvet-tongued moderns.’ He blamed this decline…on ‘the Bollistic blight [that] has been a malignant growth in the body of Christ’ and on ‘the spirit of pacifism….’ He called instead for ‘militant preaching… that defends the truth against all errors, teachers of error and institutions of error by name, make, model and number.’

Another preacher echoed those sentiments, writing “There are those among us who believe in being soft, noncontroversial, nonfighting. But the old Book still tells us to fight the good fight and to put on the whole armor of God.” His major targets in this regard were the Truth-Seeker, published at Harding College, “which is determined to be sweet-spirited, never pugnacious,” and Boll’s Word and Work, which “does not mention names of those it attacks.”

Another writer we all know wrote these words: “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone…not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct.” Say, that sounds good to me; what about you?

In the memorial issue of Word and Work, published the month after his Home-going, this trait of Boll’s was mentioned by several of his friends in their tributes to him. For example, L. V. Houtz wrote that RHB’s life taught the lesson that the great man of God has no time to defend self. For those who maligned him, Brother Boll had only the kindliest of words. When one of his erstwhile enemies would be called from this earthly scene of action, Brother Boll would write a kindly tribute to the life of the departed brother. I am sure that now –as he shakes hands with them on the other side, the kindly feeling is mutual.

I myself was deeply touched several years ago when browsing through the Dec. 1937 Word and Work. Its “News and Notes” section contained reports sent in from churches in many parts of the country. One of them said, “Horse Cave, Ky.: Ancient gospel preached at Green’s Chapel by Brother Foy E. Wallace Jr. of Denton, Texas…. Many heard, believed and were baptized. The Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved. Church strengthened and edified. Wallace…endeared [himself] to us. –R. L. Dunagan.” That report had crossed Boll’s desk. Perhaps Jorgenson asked, “Should we run that in Word and Work?” I am guessing that Boll replied, “Yes, why not? We hold no malice in our hearts.”

Ten months later, in the Oct. 1938 Bible Banner, “Wallace declared pre-millennialists and their sympathizers no longer members of Churches of Christ.” Nonetheless, Boll continued to apply the words of Paul we quoted above. He felt Edwin Markham’s poem summarized it well:

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

E. He was Broad in Fellowship — Not Sectarian

The circle Boll drew did shut out those who denied the Gospel, as Paul did (in Gal. 1:6-9, e.g.). But it took in those who believed the Gospel, as Paul did (in 1 Cor. 12:21-22; 15:15; Rom. 14:1-15:7). While on principle Boll opposed denominationalism and thus denominations, that did not at all mean he believed “we” were the only Chris-tians and all members of “denominational churches” were lost.

Richard Hughes writes that Boll rejected “the sectarian exclusivism of Churches of Christ when he routinely ran articles from…early fundamentalists…in the pages of his journal Word and Work.” My research shows that in 1916, the first year he was editor, he included articles written by D. M. Panton, G. H. Pember, Charles Trumbull, Philip Mauro, and James Stifler. None of them were from restoration movement churches (though of course he ran articles from such men too–A. Campbell, Scott, Harding, Lipscomb). Also included was a letter about demon-possession, written by a missionary identified as a Presbyterian. And the magazine carried recommendations of books written by such men as R. A. Torrey and James M. Gray, both of whom were presidents of Moody Bible Institute. Boll recognized that God has lots of children in lots of places.

Again, consider an article he wrote entitled, “The Place of Prayer in Mission Work.” In it he quoted or mentioned with approval missionaries William Carey, John Paton, Samuel Zwemer, and Hudson Taylor — he lavished praise on Taylor especially. Yet he well knew that none of those men were from “our churches.”

Of course in this attitude Boll was saying nothing new. Barton Stone, Thomas Campbell, Walter Scott, and especially Alexander Campbell commended men like Luther, Knox, Bunyan, Wesley, Newton and others. They might on occasion point out their faults and errors (Boll did that too), yet they acknowledged them to be not only Christians but outstanding servants of the Lord. Yet Hughes observes that “many viewed Boll’s fraternization with fundamentalists as nothing short of scandalous.” Maybe it’s safe to acknowledge such outsiders as brethren only after they have died.

His inclusive position led him to allow some of his books (I don’t know how many) to be translated by a Pentecostal missionary into Portuguese. They were then circulated in Brazil–in Pentecostal and Evangelical circles. Here’s the background to that: In the late 1920s O. S. Boyer and several co-workers were sent to Brazil by Churches of Christ. They were zealous and bold amid ferocious persecution. As time went on, they experienced some unusual circumstances. In a letter Boyer “unintentionally [used] a misleading phrase” about the Holy Spirit, resulting in a “barrage of vicious, bitter, condemnatory criticism” of him in several papers–though they never gave him a chance to explain himself. Through a chain of events stretching over several years, Boyer and a few others ended up affiliating with the Assemblies of God. This broke Boll’s heart. As the situation had unfolded he had written several articles showing Scripture’s teaching on the Holy Spirit and refuting the Pentecostalist positions. He also carried on “long and patient correspondence” with Boyer. But, Boll believed, in the end the extremely censorious reaction by church leaders in the U.S. drove the missionaries away from us and into the arms of Pentecostalists. “One extreme tends toward another,” he concluded. Later, Boyer (who developed a farflung literature ministry in Brazil) wanted to translate some of Boll’s books for use there. Boll consented. If God’s people would be blessed by them, he was pleased. He never trimmed his message because of his audience. But he firmly believed, “Judge me by what I say, not by where I say it.”

F. He was Spiritual — Not Self-centered

Even some writers who strongly disagree with Boll’s beliefs have testified to his deep spirituality. Earl West wrote, “Boll was modest, sincere, thoroughly in love with Christ….With tender-hearted love he presented his message ….” Robert C. Welch writes quite caustically about Boll’s teaching and blames him for fomenting division among the Churches of Christ. But he also mentions his “gentle graciousness” and “dignified graciousness.”

Boll’s generosity and humility were demonstrated when he allowed others to publish a very popular tract he wrote — without crediting him as its author. I learned of this in 1963 when I visited the Abilene Christian College bookstore. There I was amazed to see for sale the well-known tract Boll had written decades before, “Why Not be Just a Christian?” But it didn’t have his name on it; no author was indicated. I feel quite sure that no company would have published his tract without his permission. And I feel very sure that he would have given permission to print it without his name — for many people would not have bought it if they knew he was its author. To spread the truth was impor-tant to him; to get credit for it was not.

Then there was his prayerfulness. A student in a mainline Church of Christ college had heard some premill friends mention R. H. Boll several times. So he chose to write a research paper on him. One book he read was Boll’s Lessons on Hebrews, in which the author ended each chapter with a prayer. For instance, at the end of his lesson covering Heb. 5:11-6:20, he wrote:

Our Father, we know thy promises are sure and steadfast and our hope is secure. But our zeal flags, our energy fails, our faith grows weak and our assurance faint. We need thee every hour. We believe that thou art able to keep that which we have committed unto thee; yet protect thou us from our own selves, lest we abandon the attitude of faith and patience and drift back when we should go forward…. May thy solemn warnings and tender admonitions and encouragements, thy exceeding great and precious promises and the knowledge of thy perfect faithfulness, inspire us to patient perseverance in the way and the aim to attain to Christian perfection, that every one of us who has this hope set on him may by thy grace purify himself, even as Christ is pure. Amen.

The student had never read such prayers, especially in a commentary or study-book. He felt Boll must be sincere and godly. Thus later, when he heard that some people strongly opposed him, he wondered why.

Boll not only wrote such prayers, he also wrote articles exhorting to prayerful- ness. And he practiced what he preached. That fact (and some others) is shown by an incident which Leroy Garrett shared with me from his student days at Freed-Hardeman College in the early 1940s. A well-known Bible teacher there “considered Boll a heretic and false teacher.” In a class which Garrett attended, that teacher told of a friend of his who had had RHB in his home. The friend [said] that RHB must be a man of prayer and deep spirituality, for when he went upstairs to call him to breakfast, he noticed through the slightly opened door that Boll was on his knees praying. The host backed away, leaving him undisturbed. He came back some minutes later, supposing he could now tell him that breakfast was ready, but he was still on his knees praying.

The host insisted to [Garrett’s teacher] that RHB must be very pious to be praying for so long on his knees in the early morning. But [the teacher] then said to us (and perhaps to his friend upon being told of the incident) that he wondered why Boll had his door partly open! I got the distinct impression that he would not put it past the likes of RHB to set up that sort of presumed piety.

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One Response to “R.H. Boll as a Writer and Editor”

  1. Don McGee says:

    Outstanding article, as always! I am one generation removed from the life of RHB having been 6 years old when he died. We are all familiar with his doctrine and many say they subscribe to it, but few alive today know much about RHB the man.

    Actually, though — as I think about it, some alive today who knew him personally might not really know his doctrine, or at least they do not subscribe to it in reality. This might be evidenced by their strong and narrow lines of fellowship, and their putting him on a pedestal — something I am told he detested.

    Anyway, keep this series going!



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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33